World AIDS Day is a time to recall the great contributions of Vancouverites

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I decided to visit the World AIDS Day website because, well, it's World AIDS Day.

Here are some basic facts:

• More than 90 percent of HIV infections come as a result of sexual activity.

• Only one percent of babies have HIV when they're born to mothers with the virus.

• HIV is not passed along through spitting, biting, or sharing utensils.

• It only takes 15 to 20 minutes to find out if you have HIV.

According to a recent United Nations report, it's "entirely feasible" that the AIDS epidemic will eventually be eradicated. Approximately 34 million had HIV by the end of last year.

Most important of all, HIV is no longer a death sentence, thanks in part to the efforts of Vancouver researchers who've contributed enormously to the global understanding of how to combine drugs to control the virus.

I had the good fortune of spending time with some of the exceptional people at the Positive Living Society of British Columbia earlier this year when I was a judge in the organization's AccolAIDS awards.

One of the many unsung heroes who were honoured was Alex Tam, a Downtown Eastside pharmacist who donates many thousands of dollars worth of food, medical supplies, and other items to sick people in his community. This kind and loving man is sometimes referred to as the East Side Buddha.

Another winner of an AccolAIDS award was Emma Palmantier, who chairs the Northern B.C. Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Coalition. Her tireless work with dozens of First Nations over many years is a visible demonstration that HIV/AIDS is not just an urban issue in this province.

The amazing Dr. Peter Jepson-Young, who died 20 years ago this month, was also remembered at the event. He played a instrumental role in humanizing this disease through his videotaped diaries, which were broadcast on CBC. The West End centre that bears his name has pioneered innovative programs that not only enhance people's quality of life, but also help bind the diverse community of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Julio Montaner and his team at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS have blazed a trail in extending care to less-privileged communities and in pioneering treatments to curb the transmission of the virus in the community.

Montaner has also been a courageous political advocate, as demonstrated in the video below.


Dr. Julio Montaner speaks at the 25th anniversary of Positive Living B.C. in 2011.

On World AIDS Day, Vancouverites can take pride in their city for always been a leader in the fight against AIDS. This dates back to the 1980s when people like Gordon Price and Bob Tivey were helping to found AIDS Vancouver, when Kevin Brown was relentlessly advocating on behalf of patients even as he was deathly ill, and when doctors like Rick Mathias and Noel Buskard were taking extraordinary steps to protect the blood supply, curbing transmission of the disease.

Their efforts have been supplemented in recent years by artists like Tiko Kerr and Joe Average, A Loving Spoonful, the backers of Vancouver's supervised-injection site, and the folks at Positive Living B.C.

It's an impressive legacy.

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